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Deer disease spreads in Wisconsin

April 14, 2019

Chronic wasting disease, more commonly known as CWD, is an epidemic that has been spreading through Wisconsin since at least 2002, according to CWD expert, Bryan Richards. The disease is most prevalent among the deer population, mostly on commercial deer farms and hunting ranches. The disease has reportedly affected more than 5,200 deer as of March, 2019, as reported by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources CWD Statewide Surveillance.

A great number of Pierce and St. Croix’s neighboring counties have been labelled “watch counties,” as they are within ten miles of an area with a positive detection.

The disease is neither viral or bacterial, but caused by a brain-rupturing protein particle called a prion. Though comparable to to mad cow disease in cattle, there has been no evidence that CWD can be transferred to humans. This is based on epidemiology investigations by public health agencies and Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts from these organizations  still recommend hunters to be prudent with how they handle the disease, by avoiding animals that appear to be in poor physical health. Commercial deer farmers are told to test their herds if they notice any discrepancies in normal herd behavior.

Mark Reese, a wildlife management expert, said that it is important that all hunters follow the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) protocol regarding Chronic Wasting Disease rules and procedures. “Domesticated deer herds or deer ranches and their management is a big issue,” Reese said. “The disease spreads via direct contact with infected deer, and if the infected deer get out of the ranch and can spread the disease to wild herds.”

The Minnesota DNR recommends not feeding wild deer for this same reason. If a deer is infected, their saliva spreads through shared food and water sources.

Johnny Strzyz is a hunter from Forest County, Wisconsin, where CWD has been positively detected. “About a year ago or less, there was a ban on all baiting in my county. Before, people could bait deer; a lot use corn, seeds, vegetables, apples, etc., but the most common way it spreads is by saliva from eating the same pile of food,” Strzyz said. “There were a couple on a deer farm that got CWD, so the DNR banned feeding in my whole county.”

Strzyz has been hunting since he was ten years old. “So that comes with a lot of learning over the years. I’ve been having conversations with other hunters and becoming more knowledgeable on the subject,” Strzyz added. “I’d say to other hunters, if you’re going to bait deer, spread the bait and don’t leave it in big piles. That’s one way you could prevent CWD more effectively.”

Alexa Walczak, a biomedical student, has been an avid hunter since she was young. The areas she has hunted in have not experienced a CWD outbreak, due to to diligence of local hunters.

“I recommend that hunters be aware of the area they hunt and know whether or not there have been deer reported with CWD. If you are to harvest a deer, you must register it through the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) website,” she said. “On the website, you report the time and place the deer was harvested. Once you enter the location of harvest, the DNR instantly informs you if CWD is known in your area. If it is known in your area, you are recommended to bring your harvested deer to get tested. It is highly advised that a deer infected with CWD not be consumed.”

Evan Verhota, a business management student and frequent hunter, agreed. “I say just to be aware. Know that this is a problem that has been and is coming to the Midwest. It is best for your deer herd that if you see signs of CWD that you make sure to harvest that animal at the soonest sign possible. With that being said, you have to be aware that other deer may have it as well but are not showing signs yet,” he warned. “It is a disease that takes time to develop, meaning that deer can have it for years before you can see visual symptoms.”

Deers afflicted with CWD show some warning signs; lethargy, staggering walk, excessive drooling, loss of appetite, extreme thirst, drooping ears and bristly coats. For additional information on recognizing the symptoms and preventing the spreading of CWD, visit the Department of Natural Resources website.